Appalachian Medicine Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Indian Pipe Or Ghost Flower Either Way It’s Creepy

Indian pipe plant
Indian Pipes (also called-Ghost Flower, Corpse Plant, Death Plant, and Fairy Smoke) grow deep in the forest. They are often found near old stumps or rotting logs.

Ghost plant
If you’ve ever seen them growing in the woods-it’s easy to see where they got their common names. The white almost translucent look of the spindly nodding plant is eerie enough to conjure up the images of Ghosts or even Death. And the shape of the narrow stem with a nodding head does indeed resemble an Indian’s smoke pipe.

Corpse plant
Indian Pipes are typically white-although sometimes they have a pinkish cast to them. The plant’s strange white look is due to the lack of chlorophyll-in other words the plant doesn’t use the process of photosynthesis that most plants do.

Indian pipe plant grows in western nc
Indian Pipes act as a sort of parasite feeding on the the nutrients that have all ready been digested by tree roots or nutrients from decaying plant matter in the form of rotting logs or stumps. Once the plant finishes it’s growing season-the pipes turn completely black-almost looking like burnt matchsticks-another part of the plant that adds to it’s mystery or creepiness. Also-if you pick an Indian Pipe-it will soon turn black as well.

Ghost plants grow in appalachia

The nodding flowers of the plant amazingly raise their heads to the sky in a last hurray of sorts-to make sure their seeds are broadcast to ensure the next generation of Indian Pipes are born the following year.

As you would assume-there is much folklore surrounding the strange plant.

  • The plant was used in medicinal remedies ranging from curing colds and fevers to removing warts.
  • Interesting in relation to the alternate names of Corpse or Death plant-the plant was said to heal the broken heart of those mourning the loss of a loved one.
  • A Cherokee legend tells the story of Indian Pipes being created due to the selfishness of people-you can read it here.

I found the following about the Indian Pipe/Ghost Flower in a book from 1917-it was written and Published by Neltje Blanchan-Wild Flowers Worth KnowingThe author thought the plant was indeed evil:

“Among plants as among souls, there are all degrees of backsliders. The foxglove, which is guilty of only sly, petty larceny, wears not the equivalent of the striped suit and the shaved head; nor does the mistletoe, which steals crude food from the tree, but still digests it itself, and is therefore only a dingy yellowish green. Such plants, however, as the broom-rape, Pine Sap, beech-drops, the Indian Pipe, and the dodder–which marks the lowest stage of degradation of them all–appear among their race branded with the mark of crime as surely as was Cain. No wonder this degenerate hangs its head; no wonder it grows black with shame on being picked, as if its wickedness were only just then discovered! To think that a plant related on one side to many of the loveliest flowers in Nature’s garden–the azaleas, laurels, rhododendrons, and the bonny heather–and on the other side to the modest but no less charming wintergreen tribe, should have fallen from grace to such a depth! Its scientific name, meaning a flower once turned, describes it during only a part of its career. When the minute, innumerable seeds begin to form, it proudly raises its head erect, as if conscious that it had performed the one righteous act of its life.”

Although I’m not quite sure how plants could be considered backsliders-the quote sounded so old world Appalachia I had to share it with you.

Have you ever seen Indian Pipes? Do you think they’re creepy?



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  • Reply
    September 7, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    Potawatomi woman drank a tea made from the roots to alleviate female troubles, relieve pain n induce sleep….according to “Edible and Medicinal Plants of th Great Lakes Region. Interesting reading.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2017 at 2:43 am

    There are some growing right in my back yard! I’ve never seen them before, despite me constantly taking walks through the woods so you can imagine my surprised when I looked down while walking across a log and found a clump of them growing right by my feet! They’re beautiful, I love them honestly.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    There is a book of native American children’s stories titled “Little Papoose Listens”, and The last story in it is about Indian pipe.

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    July 20, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Norma-I don’t have any information about the ghost plant being used for medicine, but if I come across any I’ll send it your way : ) I hope you have a great evening!

  • Reply
    Norma Fralin
    July 17, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Tripp, I have a friend here in Va that had the white Ghoast Plant that just came from nowhere, we have never saw or heard of this Plant before .Is there any kind of medical uses for them? I have read there was, but also read where they could be dangerous if digested. They can actually make you hallucinate.Can you give me any info that you can. Thank you very much.N.F.

  • Reply
    Jen Nugent
    July 9, 2014 at 2:55 am

    We found one over the weekend. It’s beauty was undeniable, and the way it hangs it’s head is unusual. One of the flowers was reaching to the sky. It’s nice to hear more about them. They truly are mysterious and intriguing in my book. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • Reply
    lisa viers
    August 7, 2013 at 2:01 am

    i was cutting weeds and found them in my back yard . never seen them before and i lived here 39 years. i live in virginia. i think they look like tiny roses.

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    B f
    August 19, 2011 at 8:34 am

    i,ve got to admit these ghost flowers are one i wouldnt beg someone for a start of , they look like bodies just hanging around and at night they might be even creepy, now they are pretty in a unique way but if you start thinking you might change your mind ,i,ve never seen one to the best of my knowledge but anyway you are doing a great job and we get a lot of info from you .by the way the squash recipe looks really good

  • Reply
    August 18, 2011 at 10:38 am

    These plants don’t feed on decaying plant matter. That was once thought to be true, but it’s been discovered that they actually feed on the nutrients from a specific type of fungi that populate tree roots.
    We have these in New England and all along the coast. I went to a national park in Prince Edward Island where they compeltely lined the path. I like them even though they’re totally freaky.
    Another creepy thing about them is the way they pop up out of nowhere–we had a few days of rain this week, and BAM–our yard is full of them, three or four clumps and a few lonely flowers growing by themselves. Never seen them there before in ten years.

  • Reply
    Daniel Seamans
    August 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    If you find these plants,remember the spot and go back at night and you’ll find why they where really called ghost plants;they glow in the dark!On our family farm,below New Milford,PA (since 1838)the old Indian trail known as the Warriors Path,or Lackawanna Trail,which runs from Great Bend to Nicholson,is lined with these plants and you can find your way on the darkest night when they are in bloom!This path was used for probably thousands of years.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    We have these plants in our woods. When I was little, my sister and I used to race all over the forest and see who could find the most. It brings back such great memories.

  • Reply
    Terry Allen S.
    September 1, 2010 at 12:02 am

    I have seen these in the woods north of Forks, WA while camping a few years ago. It took a bit of help from a nice lady in the General Store/Pharmacy there, and a plant book to identify them. Even though she was local (and I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula as well), neither of us knew what they were. She was eager to go where I’d been so she could see them in person.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I have about fifty of them in my wooded back yard in four or five different clumps. They really do catch your eye as they are bright white compared to the green contrast. I reasearched them as well and found that they are not a fungus but a type of flower that uses a specific type of fungus to leach raw nutrients from tree roots for food. I think they are lovely and are currently my favorite flower.

  • Reply
    July 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    We always had these around the house as a kid…of course, we lived in the woods. Anyhow, I just thought they were cool looking. We used to cover stumps up with buckets which seemed to encourage them…but that’s a kid’s memory. Still, they are very cool!

  • Reply
    June 30, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Your posts are always well thought out or well researched. This post is one of my favorites…being a retired science teacher and all. Plants and flowers of different regions of the US are wonderful to see. I wish I’d had blogger when I was teaching. The kids would have gotten so much more out of the learning process via several mediums.
    Thanks for sharing and keep it up!

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    June 27, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Tipper: Now that is a fungus I never heard about.

  • Reply
    Kim Campbell
    June 26, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    You post the most fascinating things!
    Hey, on a side note, have you seen this site? You probably have but just in case!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t recall if I’ve seen these or not. They are kinda creepy looking.

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    June 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Yes, I’ve seen them, very interesting plant. I look at things like this in nature and wonder about what God may have been thinking about when He created them.
    Love the folklore of them.
    Patty H

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 10:36 am

    I have not noticed them here on our farm, but maybe I am just not looking close enough. Good information. Intriguing and now I will have to find some!

  • Reply
    June 25, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I saw the post on FB, and then on my iGoogle feed. Thought about it went on working, came back and said..I have to see what this is about.
    Really neat information. I love plants and this is really a new one to me. Fascinating the folk lore that has grown up around it, but the old world type description is just the best. How many of us ascribe human actions to plants.
    I like the Cherokee’s teaching of plants were on a higher plane than people and chose to aid them.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    June 25, 2010 at 11:47 am

    We have Indian pipes in our woods. They are unique. I enjoyed very much your posting and learning about these plants.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    June 25, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I was going to ask exactly the same question posed by Will, wondering if they are fungi and actually release spores. Thanks for the answer, Tipper.
    No, I don’t believe I have ever seen this plant.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I have heard of them all my life, but never seen one. Or if I did, I didn’t have anyone to tell me what it was.
    And yes, they are creepy. Mysterious, but creepy.

  • Reply
    Janet Pressley
    June 25, 2010 at 2:19 am

    Never seen such a creature. Very interesting and thanks for the information! I will look in the woods. Nana

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    June 24, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    We saw some last year while hiking in the Smokies. I think they are kinda neat looking.

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    June 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Tipper, I love reading your blog.I’ve seen the Indian Pipes here on my mountain. I haunted that patch of them one season but have never seen them again. They were growing beside an old Cherokee trail, on one of the oldest, deepest spots on the mountain. I snagged the image and put them in the first lines of a poem, Leaving in the Dead of Winter, published in Indiana Review.
    “Ghosts push up through soil,
    pale mushrooms and Indian Pipe clusters,
    the little saints.”

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    June 24, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I saw them once and thought they looked like tiny aliens.
    Love the quotes you included!

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    We saw those ghost flowers at Mingus Mill in the Great Smokey Mountains National Parks.
    We were amazed at them!

  • Reply
    Greta Koehl
    June 24, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Well, my husband the Boy Scout recognized these! I have never seen or heard of them and also find them eerie.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    June 24, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I have heard of these and seen them occasionally in our woods, in remote places, and find them fasinating.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 24, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I don’t recall ever seeing this plant. It is beautiful, kind of makes me think of an angel. The story touches my heart deeply. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    June 24, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I have never heard of nor seen them, but they do look a little on the creepy side. Especially now that you have said all you have about them! : )

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    i think that is the most interesting plant.. and no i have never heard of them before.. but i love the folklore.. i will have to ask my sister in law if she knows of this plant.. she is (ojibwe and cherokee) isnt nature wonderful??
    tipper thanks so much for sharing with us 🙂
    big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I’ve never seen them, but I’ve certainly looked. From my understanding they are very rare – so you are lucky to have found them!
    Thank you for sharing the link to Wild Flowers Worth Knowing…what a fun read!

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    No—never seen them or heard of them… So–I definitely learned something today… Thanks!

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Tipper, I’ve actually found these in forested areas in Northwest FL. They are really pretty despite their creepy nature. The ones I found were white and pink and were growing near the roots of a big oak tree.

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    You’re right – it is CREEPY! 😮

  • Reply
    Cher'ley Grogg
    June 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I have never seen these either and I’ve spent a lot of time walking in the woods over the years. Interesting.

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Will-they are not fungi-they do have real seeds. Pretty cool uh : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
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  • Reply
    Will Dixon
    June 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Interesting. Are these actually a fungi? Do they have real seeds, or do they release spores?
    Ain’t Nature wonderful!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Yes, I have seen Indian Pipes and I thought they were creepy, but beautiful…The ones I have seen here in lower East Tn..have more red on them not clear like ice..
    I guess there will never be peace in the Great Smoky Mountains according to the Cherokee legend about them ’cause the smoke hangs in there forever…

  • Reply
    Gwen Mangelson
    June 24, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    oh wow! I have never seen anything like this before- thank you for sharing!! Can I post your link on my blog?

  • Reply
    June 24, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I have never seen, nor heard of them! At first glance, I thought them creepy, but now I think they are pretty and intriguing! Thanks for sharing, Tipper!

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